Between Barstow and Victorville, old Route 66 survives as an old-roads trek across the Mojave Desert. The 32-mile route, called the National Old Trails Highway, parallels the railroad tracks and the usually parched Mojave River, passing through odd little towns like Oro Grande, which is still home to a huge cement plant and an array of roadside junk shops. The cement plant, processing local limestone, follows on from the optimistic prospectors who gave the town its “Big Gold” name back in the 1850s. The cemetery here is one of the oldest in southern California. Oro Grande is also home to some long-abandoned roadside businesses, relics of Route 66. One relic lives on: A 1930s tractor dealership now houses the popular Iron Hog Saloon (20848 National Trails Hwy., 760/843-0609), which serves cold beers and big steaks.
The Oro Grande boasts an impressive silver steel bridge over the bed of the Mojave River and is getting famous for another more colorful sight: the hard-to-miss Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch (24266 Route 66), where thousands of green, blue, brown, and clear glass bottles have been dangled from a forest of mostly metal “trees” by a white-bearded local retiree named Elmer Long. There’s no admission charge for the Bottle Tree Ranch, which Elmer has dedicated to “those who have lived and died on the Mother Road.” Elmer is not shy (he has his own Facebook page!), so stop and say “hi.”